Rolling in the Lance-approved Outback rocket |

Rolling in the Lance-approved Outback rocket

Special to the Daily

Plenty of days on the Colorado calendar you can spend a half hour in a parking lot trying to figure out which forest-green Subaru Outback is your own – or spot a line of Subarus six-deep on a street in your neighborhood. That alone says plenty about the popularity of Subaru’s reliable, all-wheel-drive wagon in the High Country; great in snowy conditions, excellent for hauling all of your outdoor gear and practically bulletproof.Now in its third generation, the 2005 model Outback has taken a considerably different direction with clean, updated styling and a package of performance features that take it from the ubiquity of the mountain everycar to a sweet-looking speed machine.

To that end, all of the hype you’ve read about in this year’s acceleration-focused, Lance Armstrong-approved Outback press campaign is absolutely true. Buckle yourself in behind the wheel of our test ride, the intercooled and turbocharged 2.5 XT Limited model (with a 250 horsepower, four-cylinder boxer engine derived from the Impreza WRX Sti) and you’ll find a vehicle that flies like a bat out of hell.Even when started in the normal drive mode of the available five-speed, automatic, Sportshift transmission, a steady stomp on the gas pedal will produce a screaming line of acceleration that you probably never thought you’d associate with an all-wheel-drive Suby. Climbing hills or simply blasting along on flat-out stretches, the new Outback careens with the kind of virtually unstoppable passing power anyone puttering along in a ’99 model might have sold his or her soul to feel now and then.We’d offer a statement of caution in all of Subaru’s new devotion to the gods of flat-line acceleration. Fantastic speed is one thing, but with 8.7 inches of clearance, the Outback is still a relatively high-riding AWD, despite a longer wheelbase and lower center of gravity than the previous model. Parked on the factory-issued set of all-season 225/55 R17s, you may be disappointed (and a bit freaked out, especially in fast turns) that the car literally drives way, way too fast for its tires. Ultimately, a set of grippy summer performance tires would probably help keep the speed/performance ratio a little more like a German import; when the snow flies again you’ll probably learn to keep a lighter touch on the gas pedal and be entirely happy with all of the car’s impressive AWD technology.

The 2005 models’ other wholesale change is a new smooth and sweeping design that screams sports car, especially with a straight and elongated nose and functional air scoop, plus some massive headlamps and halogen foglights. There’s an improved, graceful sweep to the entire car and accentuated lines along the side of the body (including a two-tone line along the floorboards in our metallic red test model); the broad, wide rear features a large, functional rubberized deck for loading your various toys into the cargo area, plus huge cowls containing turn signals and brake lights. Added together, it’s a wonderfully attractive and modernistic update to the time-tested Outback package.Inside, there’s an enormous double moonroof – the front section elevates for ventilation and the rear portion slides back to give enough space to allow your passengers to stand up and wave during parades. In the back, a large, rubbery cargo mat will hold your load, with plenty of extra tiedown points and a full, rolling screen for the luggage area.The whole cabin is accentuated in high-quality leather on the doors, dash and a set of comfortably supportive and infinitely adjustable driver and passenger’s seats. There’s a snug, wrap-around feel to the forward interior, but you’ll still find ample room and a nice driving position for longer jaunts. Rear seating is also very comfortable and features loads of anchor points for child safety seats.

On the dash, the red backlit instruments add to the car’s performance appeal, from the speedometer and tach gauges to the great-sounding, in-dash six-CD stereo and automatic climate control system. If things seem a little too dim when you’re driving in the day with your headlights on, simply touch the brightness display button on the center console – next to the trip computer, which provides instant gas mileage and distance to empty – and the whole system will suddenly light up for full view. Large, heated side mirrors provide good visibility and also feature in-built auxiliary turn lamps. The Autoshift feature adds a good deal of adaptability when hill-climbing or passing, especially with the optional thumb-shift buttons on the performance-style Momo leather-wrapped steering wheel. Drop it down a gear and you’ll find an extra burst of oomph when cresting a hill – just remember to upshift manually as the Outback won’t do it for you and the car may max out on revs during a big climb like the Georgetown hill.

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